What is Art?: Tolstoy Weighs In

Traditional and modern perspectives collide

Joshua Clements


Photo by Eric TERRADE on Unsplash

Have you ever looked at a painting or a sculpture and thought, “Is that supposed to be art?”

To answer the question, “What is Art?” you could easily find numerous responses online, all of them based on someone’s personal preference.

One dictionary describes art as “the expression of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form, such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Though this interpretation could be considered a conservative explanation, it clarifies boundaries from which to start.

Let’s take it a step further and compare two ideologies used to view art.

The first is the traditional view. This philosophy usually entails anything made by the work of one’s hands, whether painting, sculpting, or drawing. It could range from labor-intensive chiseling to simple carving, or mural application to notebook doodling.

Included in this is the idea of intent. There is a desire for the product to be beautiful to the beholder, not just to the artist. There is a passion for the piece to have a lasting effect, not merely passing elation.

The other theory is considered the modernistic view. This belief typically includes just about anything that evokes a pleasing experience. If we use this as our basis, we could consider pornography, photography, and crap-on-canvas to be art. Under this umbrella, anything that tickles your pickle could be seen as art.

Where you were born, how you were raised, and your cultural exposure will have a significant impact on defining your interpretation of art. You might lean toward the traditional side if you were educated to appreciate authentic handiwork and craftsmanship. If you had no exposure to artwork, you might be inclined to think skydiving or a beautiful sunset is art.

With these definitions established, let’s see what one authority says in a section we will call “Ask the Expert.”

Our resident expert is Leo Tolstoy, the whiskered wordsmith, patron saint of peasants, and resisting revolutionary. A late 19th-century Russian writer…



Joshua Clements

Writer, Martial Artist, and student of Philosophy and Communication. You can see more of my work at joshuaclementswrites.com and thephilosophicalfighter.com.